EU Court of Human Rights: Mass Surveillance Requires Judicial Oversight

Earlier this month, in response to a case in Hungary, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that mass surveillance needs judicial oversight.

As explained in a detailed blog post by the Center for Democracy and Technology, human rights activists brought this case that “challenged sweeping legislation adopted in 2011 that allows the Hungarian police to search houses, postal mail, and electronic communications and devices without judicial approval when seeking to prevent terrorism or otherwise protect Hungary’s national security. ”

As referenced above, Hungarian law allowed the Minister of Government to approve police requests for searches, including of electronic communications, to “protect national security.”  The process lacked judicial oversight, allowed surveillance to go on for long periods and did not require deletion of information gathered during searches.

Activists argued this law violated human rights and the court ruled in their favor, stating that surveillance cannot take place without a judge’s order: “the Hungarian government had violated article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy) because it failed to have sufficiently precise, effective and comprehensive measures that would limit surveillance to only people suspected of crimes.”

Although it hasn’t been widely reported on, this ruling could have far-reaching implications as it applies across nations in the EU. As stated by Euroactive: “The blow dealt to Hungary’s surveillance practices this week by the European Court of Human (ECHR) Rights could usher in a wave of similar rulings from around the EU.” This means all countries, even those with invasive draft legislation like the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill, will be subject to this ruling. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on how this effects surveillance legislation in the EU going forward.

 Learn more about the Hungary ruling from Budapest Business Journal and the Register.